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"I just die for some authority!": barriers to Utopia in Howard Brenton's Greenland.

Howard Brenton's utopian play Greenland has received little scholarly attention and has been belittled and even scorned by a number of theater critics. Michael Coveney, from the Financial Times, talked of its "glumly tranquil and anodyne vision." (1) Michael Billington, of the Guardian, recognized its "shafts of sly humour," at the same time thinking it "oddly whimsical and fuzzy." (2) Francis King, of the Sunday Telegraph, describes the Greenland inhabitants as living "without any hatred, acquisitiveness or personal ambition," but as a consequence seem as if they are "having an incredibly boring time of it"; Sheridan Morley, of Punch, complains that the Greenlanders "drift around in a kind of daft no-man's-land trying to preserve themselves from a slow death by sheer boredom"; and David Nathan, of the Jewish Chronicle, protests against what he sees as "a silly, nostalgic look forward to a flower-power Utopia in which everyone's needs are satisfied, mainly by making love and jewellery and where no one produces anything." (3) Furthermore, significantly, it is the first act, situated in the non-utopian Thatcherite present, an aggressive, violent and exploitative present, that is considered by critics to be both theatrically and politically more gratifying. Indeed, the first act is very much in the tradition of fast-paced 1980s city comedies that satirized but perhaps, simultaneously, betrayed an attraction to the late capitalist marketplace, the most memorable examples being Brenton and David Hare's Pravda and Caryl Churchill's Serious Money.

Greenland was first performed in 1988 at the Royal Court Theatre in London, forming the third part of a trilogy of utopian plays, each, as Richard Boon has said, "concerned at heart with the possibility of the transformation of the self." (4) The first play, Sore Throats, first staged in 1979, centers on a divorcing middle-class couple and presents grim scenes of domestic violence. After the couple's separation, the second act sees wife, Judy, and her new flatmate, Sally, discovering the anarchic pleasures of drink, drugs, and sex with young men; contrastingly, the husband, an ex-police inspector, Jack, returns from Canada, rather insalubriously as a toilet brush salesman, after failing to make it as a Mountie. Brenton provides the following explanation for the rather muted utopian presence in the play: "My instinct was that if you are going to show people moving towards a transformation into citizens of Utopia or, in SORE THROATS, a Utopian state of mind, you have to show them first at their vilest and their most unhappy. A playwright who shirks from writing about people at their worst, will not be believed when trying to write about them at their best. The three characters in SORE THROATS set out on a crazy voyage in the play's second act. I finally imagined where to in the new play of this season, GREENLAND." (5) The second play in the utopian trilogy, Bloody Poetry, staged in 1984, was written in response to a request by Roland Rees of Foco Novo Theatre that Brenton write something on the Romantic poet Shelley. The play is an attempt to stage utopian living practices through focusing on the bohemian circle of Shelley, Byron, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairemont, and Harriet Westbrook. Brenton says of Shelley's circle: "They belong to us. They suffered exile from a reactionary, mean England, of which ours in the 1980s is an echo. They were defeated, they also behaved, at times, abominably to each other. But I wrote BLOODY POETRY to celebrate and to salute them. Whether they really failed in their 'Utopian dreams' is not yet resolved." (6)

Greenland, the final play in the trilogy and the play I focus on here, is divided into two acts. The first act takes place on 11 June 1987, the day of the general election when Margaret Thatcher won a third term in office. The second act is set seven hundred years in the future in the utopian world of Greenland. Brenton says the following of the play: "In GREENLAND I come clean. Over half the play is set seven hundred years in the future. I have tried to dramatize how I hope my children, or my children's children's children, will live and think. The 'Greenlanders' in the play are strange, and their sense of humour is disturbing, but I would love to meet them." (7) Again, as an explanation for including the first non-utopian act, Brenton talks about the importance of representing people at their most undignified in order to be able to depict with credibility characters who lead happy, dignified, and satisfied lives.

Brenton himself discusses the difficulty of writing utopian drama. He explains in an interview with Plays and Players in 1988: "After The Romans in Britain I tried to write a play of William Morris's News from Nowhere. I burnt it. So I tried an account of several days in the distant future and burnt that too." (8) This ritualistic method of rejecting his utopian scripts is perhaps revealing of some of the anxieties surrounding Brenton's attempts to write utopia for the stage. (9) In fact, it took about ten years for his utopian play to materialize. Deciding on a name, too, was a struggle. He says in an interview with New Theatre Quarterly in 1987: "I'm writing a new play which has been through two titles so far, Heaven Made and Diving for Pearls--and is at the moment called All Tomorrow's Parties." (10) The play he is referring to ends up finally as Greenland, having been through three earlier names. The difficulty of settling on a title seems to be an indicator of the unease involved in the process of attempting to name utopia.

The lack of scholarly attention paid to Greenland is particularly surprising as fully-fledged utopian plays are so unusual; as Brenton says, "gentleness and peace are not meant to make good drama." (11) With a few notable exceptions, such as Margaret Cavendish in the seventeenth century, George Bernard Shaw in the nineteenth, and Aristophanes in classical Greece, playwrights wishing to dramatize utopia have tended to confine this interest to engagement with utopian themes and the performance of utopian desire rather than attempting to stage a proper utopia. (12) But Greenland is without doubt a proper utopia; it is an overt attempt to adapt literary utopia for the stage. It is even organizationally close to the foundational utopian text, Thomas Mores Utopia, in its two-act structure, the first act echoing Utopia's Book One in its representation of the unappealing non-utopian world, which essentially provides the argument for the need for utopia; the second act, like Mores Book Two, transports the reader/spectator to an otherworldly, utopian space.

Indeed, Greenland embeds itself further in the tradition of classic utopias by alluding very precisely to some of the other key classic utopian texts. All four visitors to Greenland arrive by way of the River Thames. The significance of the Thames as a conduit to Utopia explicitly references News from Nowhere. Although William Guest falls asleep in his house after a meeting of the Socialist League and wakes up in the utopian world of Nowhere, he does not realize initially that the world he has woken up to is a future utopia. It is only after Guest takes a swim in the Thames that his noticing of "how clear the water is" expands to a wider appreciation of the wondrous differences of the utopian West London of 2003. (13) Parallels between Greenland's curmudgeonly reactionary, Severan-Severan, and News from Nowhere's writer of reactionary novels, Henry Johnson, are also overt. Likewise, Marge Piercy's 1976 novel Woman on the Edge of Time is another key intertext, particularly in terms of its construction of men and women whose gender differences are both hardly noticeable and without social significance. Sex, reproduction, marriage, and family arrangements are similarly handled by Piercy and Brenton. In both Greenland and Mattapoisett, heterosexual monogamous marriage is rejected in favor of free expression of friendship, sex, and love among multiple utopians between genders.

I. A Problem of Genre

Of course, Greenland's close conversation with the classic utopian literary tradition is also a dialogue with utopias imagined in prose fiction. Hence, the first reason I offer as explanation for Greenland's negative reception is related to the absence of a genre tradition of utopian drama. Greenland's form and title situate it instead in the tradition of stage comedy. The first satirical act is a clear descendent of Jacobean city comedy; the second has much in common with pastoral, green-world comedy. This genre blurring is not untypical of Brenton: addressing the difference in tone of acts 1 and 2 of his 1980s play, The Romans in Britain, Brenton describes the play's dramatic shape as "perverse, for it goes from 'dark' to 'light,' with a first half that is violent, dynamic and tragic, while the second half is elegiac, still and flooded with an hysterical, light-hearted, comic spirit." (14) This structural "perversity" is noticeably repeated in Greenland. When struggling to find a dramatic form for his utopia, Brenton looked to Shakespearean romantic comedies, such as As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream, where "people like us, with all our hates, confusions and contemporary troubles hanging from them like rags, get lost in a 'magic wood,' a new, alternative reality." (15) But the dirty, immoral, competitive, and exploitative London of Greenland's act 1 does not come from Shakespeare; it derives from seventeenth-century city comedy of the Ben Jonson or Thomas Middleton sort. Greenland's bold act of combining the usually discrete genres of city and green-world comedies undermines expectations of closure: the city comedy comforts of justice, retribution, and atonement are denied, but so too are the green-world comedy reassurances of returning to the social order.

In Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye speaks of Shakespeare's comedy as "the drama of the green world, its plot being assimilated to the ritual themes of the triumph of life and love over the waste land." (16) Andrew Stott describes green worlds as "wish fulfilment locations, always rural, often enchanted, in which the normal business of the town is suspended and the pleasurable pastimes of holiday prevail.... Associated with love, leisure, levelled social hierarchy, and play, the green world serves as a space in which solutions to urban problems can be worked through.... Immersion in the green world is immeasurably healing, but always temporary; holiday is defined only as such because it must be distinguished from the everyday world." (17) Green worlds proximate utopias very closely, but an important distinction is that they are encased in a temporary block of time. Activities in the Arcadian retreat (Bakhtinian carnival, disguised identities, transgendering, subversion of normative rules and values) come to an end and the spectator is presented with the resumption of order, which is also usually a return to the city. Importantly, the significant difference in Greenland is that there is no restoration of the dominant order; Greenland is not a temporary utopic holiday from where visitors return to the grey world of real life; it is instead the everyday post-historical space of the future. In this way, the play makes a decisive break with the expectations of the genre of green-world comedy and challenges the spectator to rethink what are usually assumed to be structural certainties.

This destabilization of structural certainties is accompanied by a permanent Bakhtinian carnival. Bakhtin's idea of the language of the marketplace--the idiom of the plebeian classes, a language reflective of sexuality, the body, and bodily functions--applies perfectly to the Greenlander, Jace. Joan becomes increasingly disgusted at Jace's repeated, but unconscious, acts of scratching his crotch and picking his nose; "look could you, do you think you could please stop doing that?" she pleads with exasperation. (18) Jace's association with his body is reiterated in the various actions, such as squatting on his haunches and standing on one leg, which are repeated throughout the act and continually infuriate Joan. Of course, in Bakhtinian terms, this bodily practice of living has the effect of ridiculing official discourses, but here in Greenland there are no official discourses; or, these Bakhtinian languages are the default official Greenland discourse from our own non-utopian perspective.

Greenland's disruption of the genre requirements of green-world comedy leads to the thwarting of spectators' expectations that the dominant order will reassert itself, refreshed and revitalized. However, Alexander Leggatt rightly reminds us that these comedies are not quite as straight-forward: "As the order affirmed in the traditional ending is essentially social--marriage, the family, the rule of law--so the anxieties on which comic laughter plays are social anxieties: the need for money, security and social position, and the fear that such needs are dehumanizing... There is a pervasive double-edged quality in these anxieties that corresponds to comedy's built-in contradiction between laughter and the happy ending." (19) Yes, conventional comedy endings may involve an element of unease and contradiction, but the spectator is nevertheless restored essentially intact with the same comforts and anxieties as before the start of the play. In contrast, Greenland at its close continues to insist on the terrifying nature of the non-utopian world, the world of the spectator, the insistence of which offers no route to return to a familiar selfhood for the destabilized non-utopian subject/spectator. As Patricia Troxel says of Greenland: "the utopian future offers a world of multiplicity and fecundity, but it also demythologizes the value of the individual.... Greenlanders ... become selves within a greater social self." (20) After talking to the "last reactionary," Severan-Severan, who craves conflict and misery, Joan says, "I fell into mourning for my life" and on another occasion she complains: "I can feel myself becoming like them. Slowing. Dreaming. I mustn't! I won't let go!" (21) Indeed, to a large degree, Joan does not let go; the stage directions indicate that she is the lone character of the four non-utopians returned to the non-utopian world.

II. Utopia as Death Wish

I would like to offer a second explanation for the lack of scholarly attention paid to Greenland and the rather belligerent dismissal of the play by many theater critics. These responses, I would argue, can be attributed less to the play's alleged silliness and more to the ways in which Greenland disturbs spectators, challenging them to relinquish anchorage in firmly rooted coordinates of selfhood. The utopian vision in the second act of Greenland is partially revealed to the audience through the process of defamiliarizing the visitors' responses to utopia; equally the utopian "not-yet" insists upon itself through the exposure of the anxiety underpinning critical responses to the play. In other words, the suggestion of a utopian break--a way of being beyond what is known--precipitates the disgruntled critical reaction, a reaction that belies a certain troubling of critics' intersubjectivity. This intersubjective anxiety additionally implies the delimitations of the non-utopian imagination; the horizon of the non-utopian symbolic reasserts itself as untraversable, which leaves the incredulous critic irritated. Furthermore, the process of skeptical spectators refusing the radical demands utopia places on them leads to the inevitable rearticulation of the iniquitous non-utopian space of act 1, not just as a pragmatically inevitable expression of the social order but one that is deemed sensible or perhaps even desirable in a Fukuyamian "liberal democracy cannot be improved upon" sense. Spectators encounter the rootedness of subjectivity in the non-utopian socioeconomic order, and this confluence of subjectivity and production relations leads to an exposure of the psychosocial barriers that prevent spectators from engaging with the "not-yet" of the utopian imaginary. A rather crude illustration of this can be found in Coveney's review in the Times: "one is despondent to see [Brenton] harbouring such high hopes for the human race." (22) Yet, this perspective, rather ironically, situates the skeptics, rather than the utopians, in a stagnant place: one, because of the assumed inevitability and even desirability of the non-utopian grimness of the status quo and two, because of the perceived impossibility of radically altering the social order or the self for the better.

Michael Griffin and Tom Moylan write in their introduction to Exploring the Utopian Impulse: "Utopianism ... is best understood as a process of social dreaming that unleashes and informs efforts to make the world a better place, not to the letter of a plan but to the spirit of an open-ended process." (23) And to a large degree this emphasis on a "spirit of an open-ended process" reflects the utopian perspective dramatized in act 2 of Greenland. Spectators are not provided with a detailed explanation or visualization of the operations of this utopian society, only an indication of its "spirit." The setting is pastoral, as one would expect from its name, and there is a provocative mix of high and low technologies. For example, the first Greenlanders appear in oilskin cloaks, but we soon discover that they have the advanced skills of telepathic communication and later find out that this is a textless society. By including oilskins and advanced communication methods in the same historical moment, a rejection of a progress narrative is humorously implied, but the presence of telepathic communication, along with the absence of written texts, also serves to deprioritize the dominant means of non-utopian interaction: that of speech and writing.

Both spoken and written languages have been central indices of the utopian spirit in the utopian literary tradition. In More's Utopia, the reader is presented with an appendix of the utopian alphabet, and a poem in utopian. For example, the utopian letter "o" is the letter "b" in the English alphabet and the first line of the utopian poem, first presented in utopian symbols (which is not possible to reproduce on my computer) transliterates as "Utopos ha Boccas peu la chama polta chamaan" which in turn is translated as "Utopos me General from not island made island." (24) The very strangeness of the lettering and the translation alerts us to the essential difference of utopian subjectivity. In Morris's News from Nowhere language mutates. What Hammond calls "long-tailed words," such as "administration" and "organisation," give way to more archaically resonant English monosyllabic words, such as "mote," "carle," and "sele." (25) Of course, language as an ideological means of delimiting thought and imagination is taken up famously in Nineteen Eighty-Four where philologist Syme is involved as part of the State in developing Newspeak, a language stripped of words relating to subversion, rebellion, and freedom. Language is equally important to the feminist utopian novels of the 1970s. Piercy in Woman on the Edge of Time removes gender differentiating pronouns "he" and "she" and replaces them with the gender neutral term "per." Monique Wittig in Les Guerilleres has her women burn the utopian texts called "feminaries" every so often in order to prevent these texts from regulating the liberated space of utopia.

Of course, it does make sense in drama to place more emphasis on action, performance, and the visual frame rather than speech or written text. But telepathy also presents a modern audience with a mode of communication that is capable of retaining the strangeness and difference that More's peculiar alphabet would have held for an early modern reader. Telepathy is the seemingly medium-free reciprocity of thoughts and feelings and the close proximity of consciousnesses of individual utopian subjects. However, the psychological intimacy of the utopians is represented as an absence or lack to the non-utopian characters and spectators of the play, who witness no auditory or visual signifiers of the telepathic communication. Sense is sustained through the additional aid of some speech:

Draw: Do y'get anything?

A'bet: Oh he's in luck. And alive. [A pause.]

Draw: He doesn't? No.

A'bet: No.

Draw: All night, y'reckon? In this weather? Out in the marshes? [They wait, listening.]

A'bet: That's what he says. (26)

The open channels of consciousness among the Greenlanders threaten the privacy of individual thought, a form of privacy deemed an indispensable right of the liberal democratic non-utopian citizen. Indeed, the maintenance of telepathy as a productive mode of communication depends fundamentally on a trusting, noncompetitive, and mutually cooperative and supportive community, again, conditions so alien to the non-utopian subject that contemplation of telepathy can only mean violence to a much valued and comforting privacy.

Indeed, an enduring feature of classic utopian fiction is the absence of private property and the further ramifications of this revolutionary economic change, such as the demotion of privacy, individualism, and ownership from their aristocratic positions in the non-utopian ethical economy. This is a feature predictably continued by Brenton, who is well known as a socialist. Greenlanders appear to have no understanding of private property or ownership; Jace the jeweller says: "you don't have it do you? A jewel. A jewel belongs to itself. All you can do is carry it around. Lose it. Pass it on. Chuck it away." (27) This is resonant of the girl's gift of a pipe "carved out of some hard wood very elaborately, and mounted in gold sprinkled with little gems" to Guest in News from Nowhere; in response to Guest's fear of losing it, the girl replies: "Somebody is sure to find it, and he will use it, and you can get another." (28) The removal of private property in Mores Utopia is the central economic transformation around which a new ethics underpinned by need, not greed, is structurally sustained and allowed to develop and flourish. Thus, Brenton, very much in the trajectory of More and Morris, resignifies property as unowned goods/ objects/things, the resignification of which makes Jacques Derrida's idea of the gift now seem possible. In utopia, the gift is no longer related to a transaction with obligations. The gift, as a figure for the impossible, for what lies beyond symbolic systems, is momentarily glimpsed, albeit rather obliquely, by visitors to Greenland.

We discover that Greenlanders have multiple sexual partners, can marry more than one person, are not confined to heterosexual relationships, and appear to be free from marked gendered distinctions. This, perhaps, poses less of an imaginative leap for the non-utopian spectator; however, by rehabilitating what are usually considered deviant sexual acts (multiple partners, cross-generational sex, sex in public) Greenland removes the erotic frisson from such encounters and recodes these transgressive sex acts as healthy, communicative, fun, productive, and most importantly, as normative, thereby removing their transgressive appeal. The stage directions introducing the "sex scene" read: "Oh', LAIFUNG and SALLY making love underneath the bedding, which humps, wriggles and moves about an area of the stage, like a huge ladybird. Grunts, laughs and whistles are heard from beneath." (29) The voyeur expects erotic stimulation, a stimulation dependent upon the sexual politics of the male gaze, only to encounter a utopian performance of sex that removes the gendered mythologies upon which the discourse of the non-utopian libidinal economy depends.

Signifiers of state structure, organization, and power are nonexistent in Greenland. However, it is precisely the absence of hierarchical state bureaucracy that Joan misses: "[T]here has got to be someone in charge here. There has got to be a committee. With sub-committees. And bye-laws and policy statements and people arguing and fixing agendas, and knifing each other in the town hall. I mean, real life!" (30) Rick Rylance suggests Brenton typically uses a character representative of a liberal consciousness--one with whom the audience is encouraged to identify--only to expose this perspective as a "terrible impotent deceit." (31) Indeed, the audience is encouraged to identify with Joan's commonsensical skeptical response to utopia. But this pejoration of utopia is exposed as being central to the sustainability of the ideological power regimes of liberal democracy, regimes that Joan--and the critical spectator--like to think they contest.

Joan's--and through identification with Joan, the spectator's--sense of self is confounded. The lack of presence and stability in utopian subject formation is too much of an imaginative leap for Joan to perceive as liberatory: "[aside]. They are always there. Looking at me. Waiting for something. Blank. See through. Like ghosts. Passing through you. Some of them are really beautiful, but they shift. Yes, future ghosts, future selves ... No personality fixed. One moment, like mental defectives, picking their noses. The next talking mathematics, or philosophy beyond anything I can fathom." (32) Joan sees the utopians as unfathomable--beyond comprehension--and her encounters with these unfathomable others threaten to destabilize her own narratives of selfhood. She--along with the skeptical spectator--demonstrates Fredric Jameson's idea of utopia as negative: "Its function lies not in helping us to imagine a better future but rather in demonstrating our utter incapacity to imagine such a future--our imprisonment in a non-utopian present without historicity or futurity--so as to reveal the ideological closure of the system in which we are somehow trapped and confined." (33) Joan's repeated outbursts of frustration ("It can't work! There are no politics! No one decides anything! No one's in charge!" (34) are expressions of anxiety caused by both utopias radical difference and Joan's sobering encounters with the delimitations of her own utopian imagination.

Fundamentally, it is a particularly privatized form of self that is at stake in Brenton's utopian vision. Jameson's notion of "anonymous bliss" is used to describe the depersonalization of communities in utopian texts. This depiction of anonymity produces what is commonly perceived as a characterizing dullness in the tradition of utopian fiction. However, Jameson sees this different formulation--or deconstruction--of the self as a strength of the utopian genre: "it reinforces ... our desubjectification in the utopian political process, the loss of psychic privileges and spiritual private property, the reduction of all of us to that psychic gap or lack in which we all as subjects consist, but that we all expend a good deal of energy on trying to conceal from ourselves." (35) Greenland's destabilization of non-utopian subjectivity serves to lay bare the interdependence of neoliberal ideology, capitalist economic structures, and narratives of selfhood. Jameson's notion of the "terror of obliteration"--his argument that utopia cannot be cognitively encountered because it necessarily involves a radical reconstitution of the self--also helps to make sense of responses to Brenton's play. If utopia interpellates a radically reconstituted utopian subject, how can the non-utopian subject identify with an utterly other subject position, involving as it would the complete eradication of subjectivity as it is known and felt? Jameson argues that the process of encountering utopia can be likened to a death wish.

Of course, an opposite challenge presented by the attempt to depict utopia is the difficulty in successfully capturing the utopian promise of moving beyond existing ideological horizons. In Greenland, the soft-left Labour candidate, Joan, and her partner and fellow campaigner, Bill, have the following exchange in act 1:

Bill: A communist society would be made by its citizens. It would be up to them if they had buses. Or doors, come to that.

Joan: So by definition Utopia cannot be described?

Bill: Did Marx?

Joan: William Morris tried.

Bill: Oh yeah. Endless country dancing, with the sun out all the time.

Joan: People want to know what we want, Bill. On the doorstep. And we can't describe it. Only flat, lead phrases ... Dignity of working people ... Right to work ... blah, blah. I mean what, what life? (36)

During this exchange Brenton draws attention to the paradoxical nature of attempting to represent utopia. Imagining utopia, as Joan indicates, is essential to political consciousness raising. Bill alludes to Marx and Engels's warning that the representation of such an imagination expropriates utopia from its future founders (and, Bill might have added, competes against class struggle). However, what is pertinent to the issues relating to the reception of Greenland revolves around the difficulty posed by representing utopia, which is that in depicting the "not-yet," the tendency is to produce such an imaginative utopian leap that the portrayal either fails to interpellate comprehending spectators or threatens to underwhelm or bore audiences by its assimilation of utopian subjectivity with non-utopian terms. (37) Hence, the challenge of imagining a utopian society, according to Greenland, often results in either the insipid vision (in Bill's opinion at least) of News from Nowhere's "endless country dancing," or alternatively, a utopian world like Greenland, where Brenton's attempt to stage radically altered subjectivities produces exasperation, anxiety, or incomprehension on the part of non-utopian characters, spectators, and critics alike.

III. "Barriers to Utopia"

It seems absolutely fitting that the non-utopian protagonist, Joan, arrives in utopia by falling off a bridge. The accidental nature of Joan's arrival in Greenland is another element of the play that frustrated critics, as did the explanation of the transformation of society into utopia; "tyranny got tired," we are told by the Greenlander, Palace. (38) Unlike News from Nowhere, which includes the chapter "How the Change Came," Brenton's play is more the inheritor of Mores Utopia in its refusal to narrate the engendering of the good place/no place. But at the same time, Greenland intimates the absolute necessity of thinking about, imagining, and building for a future society that is utterly different from the non-utopian present in which we live. In staging these tensions, Greenland reflects, explores, and exposes the psychosocial barriers preventing non-utopian spectators from engaging utopia, and in doing so, the play reiterates the importance of changing the non-utopian world.

Greenland does not offer a clearly delineated account of utopia. It instead dramatizes an open space within which subjectivity, sexuality, and collectivist and libertarian forms of human expression are explored and negotiated. However, still, this rather inchoate representation disturbed and annoyed many critics, and has attracted little attention from scholars. The neglect of this play has meant that the complex issues surrounding the relationship between the non-utopian subject and utopia, issues that the play encodes in interesting and provocative ways, have been overlooked. Partly this is due to the anxiety that seems to be produced from the demands utopia makes on non-utopian protagonists and spectators, demands that involve consideration of an absolutely and irreversibly transformed subjectivity. This transformation in turn is accompanied by the persistent threat of extinction of the non-utopian sense of self. Additionally, and not unrelated, this is also due to the disruption of the conventions of genre and the associated ideological closure that normally takes place in stage comedy, namely that the carnival festivities subverting the dominant order cease and normative social conventions reassert themselves with a renewed sense of fairness and strength. The everlasting quality of Greenland deprives the non-utopian spectator of the structural and ideological reinstatement of a symbolic order wherein the coordinates of non-utopian selfhood are restored and reinforced. Consequently, at the close of the play, non-utopian spectators are not allowed, as it were, to return to feeling themselves.

University of Lincoln


(1) Michael Coveney, Financial Times (2 June 1988), repr. in London Theatre Record (20 May-2 June 1988): 720-31 (727).

(2) Michael Billington, Guardian (3 June 1988), repr. in London Theatre Record (20 May-2 June 1988): 720-31 (729).

(3) Francis King, Sunday Telegraph (5 June 1988), repr. in London Theatre Record (20 May-2 June 1988): 720-31 (729); Sheridan Morley, Punch (17 June 1988), repr. in London Theatre Record (20 May-2 June 1988): 720-31(728); David Nathan, Punch (17 June 1988), repr. in London Theatre Record (20 May-2 June 1988): 720-31 (728).

(4) Richard Boon, Brenton: The Playwright (London: Methuen, 1991), 257.

(5) Howard Brenton, "On Writing the Utopian Plays," in Greenland (London: Methuen, 1988), 3.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Brenton, "Brenton's Erehwon," interview with Robert Gore-Langton, Plays and Players (April 1988): 10-11 (10).

(9) Brenton's burning of his utopias is reminiscent of the women in Monique Wittig's utopia, Les Guerilleres (London: Picador, 1971), 11.

(10) Brenton, "The Red Theatre under the Bed," New Theatre Quarterly 3 (1987): 195-206 (201).

(11) Brenton, preface, Plays: Two (London: Methuen, 1989), vii-xvi (xiv).

(12) See Margaret Cavendish, The Female Academy (1662), Bell in Campo (1662), and The Convent of Pleasure (1668); George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah (1920), The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (1934), and Farfetched Fables (1950); and Aristophanes, The Birds (414 BCE).

(13) William Morris, News from Nowhere, ed. David Leopold (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 46.

(14) Brenton, preface, Plays: Two, viii.

(15) Kerry Powell, Oscar Wilde and the Theatre of the 1890s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 47.

(16) Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957), 182.

(17) Andrew Stott, Comedy (London: Routledge, 2004), 29-30.

(18) Brenton, Greenland (London: Methuen, 1988), 47.

(19) Alexander Leggatt, English Stage Comedy 1490-1990: Five Centuries of a Genre (London: Routledge, 1998), 5.

(20) Patricia Troxel, "Haunting Ourselves: History and Utopia in Howard Brenton's Bloody Poetry and Greenland," in Text and Presentation, ed. Karelisa Hartigan (London: University Press of America, 1990), 97-103 (101).

(21) Brenton, Greenland, 53, 46.

(22) Coveney, 728.

(23) Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan, "Introduction: Exploring Utopia," in Exploring the Utopian Impulse: Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice, ed. Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007), 11-18 (11).

(24) Thomas More, Utopia, ed. George M. Logan and Robert M. Adams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 3.

(25) Morris, 21, 48, 133.

(26) Brenton, Greenland, 32.

(27) Ibid., 34.

(28) Morris, 32.

(29) Brenton, Greenland, 40.

(30) Ibid., 39.

(31) Rick Rylance, "Forms of Dissent in Contemporary Drama and Contemporary Theatre," in The Death of the Playwright? Modern British Drama and Literary Theory, ed. Adrian Page (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992), 115-41 (128).

(32) Brenton, Greenland, 47.

(33) Fredric Jameson, "The Politics of Utopia," New Left Review 25 (2004): 35-54 (46).

(34) Ibid., 47.

(35) Ibid., 40.

(36) Brenton, Greenland, 29.

(37) Brenton says: "How do you dramatize people without fear? We wouldn't understand a word they said. It was not surprising that the first draft thr Greenland was not only bizarre, which I didn't mind, but also totally incomprehensible even to its author." Preface, Brenton: Plays Two, xv.

(38) Brenton, Greenland, 53.
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Author:Adiseshiah, Sian
Publication:Comparative Drama
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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